There’s something about garden designers.  Their enthusiasm for their work is so infectious that even if you are not particularly interested in gardening it makes you want to grab a trowel and start planting. With the Chelsea Flower Show set to sell out again this year the British love of gardening just keeps on growing. 

One of the trends at this year’s show is the number of young, up-and-coming designers exhibiting for the first time, bringing a fresh, creative perspective to the industry. In advance of the show, we met with three talented young gardeners whose creations can be admired at the event; Matt Keightley, Hugo Bugg and Sophie Walker.

Hope on the Horizon, Help for Heroes, Show Garden


RHS Chelsea Flower Show

It was listening to the stories of his younger brother’s experiences in Afghanistan that gave 29-year-old Matt Keightley the inspiration for his first show garden at Chelsea. Matt was so moved by what he heard he ‘just picked up the phone’ and rang Help for Heroes, the military charity for wounded servicemen and women, offering to design a garden for them.

The resulting Hope on the Horizon garden for Help for Heroes is an innovative, uplifting sculptural landscape representing the complex and progressive path towards recovery experienced by wounded and sick personnel, veterans and their families.

‘I wanted the garden to represent how the soldiers get from being injured on the front line, whether physical or psychological, to becoming incredible human beings. That is a miracle in itself.’

He has used granite blocks to represent the soldiers’ physical being and plants their mental being. Both evolve through the garden, in the shape of a military cross, from a rough, unfinished, over-grown beginning to a perfectly sawn, structured end.

An avenue of Hornbeams draws the attention through the entire garden to a sculpture resembling a hopeful horizon, a reminder to the soldiers that they all have a bright future ahead. As well as areas to reflect, there are focal points all the way through.

The planting flows from white through to blues and purples, with plants such as Acanthus mollis, Agapanthus ‘Peter Pan’ and Tulipa ‘Double Maureen’. Structural specimens such as the Hornbeam, Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’ represent the soldiers’ regimented nature.


Matt Kneightley’s Hope on the Horizon

Matthew discovered his talent for landscape gardening at 17 when his parents needed their garden designed. He has run his own business in South-West London for 11 years and his work ranges from international gardens to the modern, urban spaces of London, so he’s more than primed for a gardening challenge, ‘my best advice is no space is too small, it is amazing what you can create in a tiny area, the important thing is to try and incorporate colour.’

This year is one full of firsts for Matt – his first Chelsea Flower Show and the birth of his first child, who is due just two weeks after the event.

The day after the show Matt’s garden will be moved and set within the grounds of Help for Heroes Chavasse VC House in Colchester, Essex, where injured soldiers can recuperate.

He tells me his brother ‘is a man of few words and he probably wouldn’t tell me but I think he was quietly flattered that he was the starting point for this.   To be at Chelsea with so many distinguished gardeners for Help for Heroes is just amazing. I can’t wait!’

RBC Waterscape Garden, Embrace the Rain, Show Garden*


Hugo Bugg’s Entertaining Garden

*Many congratulations to Hugo Bugg who, aged 26, has become the youngest ever gold medal winner at the Chelsea Flower Show for his sustainable ‘rain garden’ 

It is sheer coincidence that Hugo Bugg found himself designing a waterscape garden for his Chelsea debut following one of the wettest winters on record.

Initially inspired by the parched landscapes caused by extreme weather he saw on his travels abroad, his garden, the RBC Waterscape Garden Embrace the Rain, illustrates global water issues while demonstrating practical, year-round water management solutions for home gardeners. 

Winner of the RHS Young Designer of the Year 2010, Embrace the Rain is one of the most complicated and exciting challenges this talented 26-year-old has faced in his gardening career so far. His design is layered with naturally-occurring geometric patterns and directs water through the garden at different gradients and speeds, mimicking the natural watershed and showing how storm water management can replicate nature in inventive ways.

The resulting angles expose and conceal sections of the garden, enticing visitors to explore the space via a ‘floating walkway’. 

Drawing on his love of trees, Hugo has included the Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and Alder Alnus glutinosa to attract, give shelter and provide food for birds and insects, together with a range of grasses and herbaceous perennials.

‘I wanted the garden to be quite different, a rain garden that would channel storm water suitable for other countries and the UK,’ he explains. 

Following last winter, water has been on people’s minds and Hugo has some very practical advice that London gardeners can follow.


Hugo Bugg’s RBC Waterscape Garden

‘The importance of effective water management, especially in our ever-growing urban areas, is still underestimated by gardeners. Small changes really can make a big difference to water efficiency in your garden such as reducing impermeable surfaces like concrete paving to encourage rainwater to filter through into the ground and planting in the right places – damp areas with moisture-loving plants, ‘dry’ plants in arid areas.’

His own garden is a ‘wild three acres’, which evolves into the Devon countryside. He divides his time between there and London when not travelling abroad on a garden project. He has just completed a Tanzanian tropical rainforest glasshouse with the MUSE science museum in Trento, Italy.

His design influences range from photography to art, sculpture and architecture. When time permits he is a frequent visitor to the new art galleries across the capital and is a big fan of the work of Thomas Heatherwick who designed the Olympic Cauldron.

Preparing for Chelsea meant working from dawn to dusk so any downtime was usually spent running across the moors accompanied by his Cocker Spaniel, Ramson. Just a few weeks ago he even took part in the Brighton Marathon for charity dressed as a giant breast, a sight you’re unlikely to see at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Cave Pavilion, Fresh Gardens


A visitor to Chelsea Flower Show

Sophie Walker is the ‘wild child’ among this crop of up-and-coming designers. There is nothing she likes better than disappearing into the depths of the remotest jungle in her quest for rare, unknown plants – and the wilder the place the better.

At 28, she is the youngest female designer at Chelsea and this year will mark her first time showing at the event.

Her show garden, the Cave Pavilion, is a very modern, ecological, contained framed garden, focusing on the saving of rare and threatened plants. A huge concrete pavilion houses the garden like a 21st century Wardian Case (a sealed protective container or terrarium for plants favoured by plant hunters of the 19th century). The exterior gives way to a boundless interior filled with tumbling rare plants like an untouched, unmade place you might stumble upon in the wild.

Viewed from a courtyard through an enormous window, like a diorama, Sophie likens it to a kaleidoscope. ‘It is a walled garden that cannot be entered, it can only be visited in the imagination, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and has a dreamy reality between what is discovered and what is imagined…’

In 2014 an estimated 100,000 species of plant are threatened by extinction, and so Sophie’s garden seeks to emphasise the importance of plant collecting in the 21st century.


Sophie Walker’s Cave Pavilion

The first garden in RHS history to use exclusively fully traceable plants, Sophie is proud that every plant is listed with its individual seed collection number, where it was collected, by who and when. Many have not been seen in cultivation before including the new plant species, Rhodoleia Champion, and genus Uocodendron Whartonii, and many are endangered.  

Interested in gardening since childhood, it was a holiday to the Amazon jungle five years ago that convinced her she should study horticulture. On returning to London she left her art curatorial job, studied horticulture then garden design, and has been working on landscape design projects ever since.

With Chelsea in her sights she has no idea how the RHS will react to her unique garden. ‘There are things I am doing which are difficult in an RHS context, I am using all shrubs and no flowers, for instance. You are seeing plants at their rawest, which is not the traditional view. But isn’t it our job to be contrary?’ she laughs.

RHS Chelsea Flower show is from 20-24 May

We will be giving away tickets to Chelsea Flower Show, visit our competitions page to enter

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